Boris Johnson, Brexit and the fate of Deinocrates

Letters
Boris Johnson speaks during a meeting with the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, in Athens. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters

The influence of our Brexiteer politicians is become more disturbing by the day. As a classicist, Boris Johnson might wish to ponder the fate of Deinocrates in 2nd century BC Greece. Deinocrates led the campaign for Messene to withdraw from the Achaean League. He railed against the centralising power of the League’s strategos, Philopoemen, and the imposition of new laws. Instead, he argued Messene should break free and the great power across the seas, Rome, would come to its aid. There was no reason for Messene to believe Rome would respond, except his own sense of having a special personal relationship with Senator Titus Flamininus. Sadly, the senator did not respond, preferring to wait and see how things turned out. He stood aside as the League and Messene went to war. Outside the League, Messene plunged into poverty and starvation. People in Messene soon backed reaccession to the League. The new Achaean leader, Lycortas, was well disposed to the request and promised favourable terms for its re-entry. Indeed, the debts accrued by Messene would be greatly eased. The one condition set was for the immediate removal from power of Deinocrates and, indeed, for his execution. This duly took place.

The historian Polybius describes Deinocrates as follows: “He was attractive and ready in conversation, versatile and friendly in society. But at the same time, he was devoted to licentious intrigue, and in public affairs and questions of policy was quite incapable of sustained attention or farsighted views, of fortifying himself with well-considered arguments, or putting them before the public.” Your readers might find the parallels uncanny.
Professor Kevin Featherstone
London School of Economics and Political Science

• Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes